A Moveable Forest

For about a week now, the thought has been going through my mind, ‘It’s time.’    I notice the silhouettes of the branches against the amber evening sky – a golden hue unique to winter – and I think ‘It’s time.’  I finish the last of my supervisions and wish my students a happy Christmas, sending them off with chocolates and respectable doses of physics problems to work on through the long holiday, and I think ‘It’s time.’   I watch the pile of finished scripts grow bigger than the pile of scripts to finish, and I know, it’s time.

Confirmation comes from the universe (or the blogosphere) that it’s time: I am so flattered to have been given a LiEBsteR award from Ieteke at  withyourcoffee.  I will say more about that in a later post.  But check out her blog here to find the delightful story behind this award.  And tonight, as I was getting ready to write, a comment arrived from a favourite teacher on one of my previous posts, leaves and twigs, provoking thought about the oddly symbolic 9 months since I wrote it.  

It’s time to visit the forest again.

One of my favourite authors is Ernest Hemingway.  And of all his writing, I love A Moveable Feast the most.  At face value, one might think these are some of his first writings, as the vignettes and memories describe his early years struggling to make it as a writer in Paris with his first wife, Hadley.   But this is the very last book he worked on.  He wrote these stories looking back on his life through the lens of a mastercraftsman and with the reflections and regrets of an old man.   I find the combination both breath-taking and heart-breaking.

Of the title, he says, ‘If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.’

Moveable feasts refer to feast days in the Christian calendar linked to the varying date of Easter.  Like Easter itself, the dates of these feasts are not fixed; they are moveable.  But Patrick Hemingway suspects his father had something else in mind: ‘In later life, the idea of a moveable feast for Hemingway became … a memory or even a state of being that had become a part of you, a thing that you could always have with you, no matter where you went or how you lived forever after, that you could never lose. ’

Hemingway had a moveable feast.  I have a moveable forest.

For my birthday, my artist friend Katherine gave me this etching she made at the Botanical Gardens here in Cambridge.  I am so touched by the title.

Yes, this is my forest.

Other places I have found my forest?

I have found it while taking refuge in the cool blankets of air in the Rothko Chapel on a hot Houston day.  I have rested against its trunk when sitting and writing in a journal on a certain set of steps on the Columbia campus.  More than once, I stumbled into its shade as I haunted the Trident Bookstore in Boulder during graduate school.   I anticipate being surprised by the play of light coming through its limbs the next time I discover myself in a sacred space.

This is our 7th year living in the UK.  During the past seven years, I have been so very homesick at times.  Homesick for mountains, for distant horizons, for endless space, for sanctuary.   I think of sanctuary as a sacred space, a place you enter with a hush and a sense of relief, a place that is very very quiet.   Inspired by Hemingway, I’ve come to understand something: I have a sanctuary. It is my moveable forest.

This entry was posted in Music and art, Non-parabolic trajectory, Physics, teaching and learning, Travel, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Moveable Forest

  1. Rory Green says:

    Melissa – I really really love this post. It speaks to me in so many ways. I love the way you write – I feel comforted whenever I read your posts and I know we are on similar journeys – except they are mirror images… a little bit the same and a little bit opposite! I long for woodlands and forest now that I live in the desert, and recently we drove up North and I found myself in the woods again. I drank it up, and I do know that even when they are not ‘outside’ of me – I carry the woods within. Your post confirmed that for me. Thank you x


  2. Melissa says:

    Hi Rory – thanks for your comment. I’m really looking forward to hearing more about your book and reading it in 2013!!


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